The Life to Come

A novel by Michelle de Kretser.

Michelle de Kretser

Set in Australia, France, and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is about the stories we tell and don't tell ourselves as individuals, as societies, and as nations. Driven by a vivid cast of characters, it explores necessary emigration, the art of fiction, and ethnic and class conflict.

Pippa is a writer who longs for success and eventually comes to fear that she "missed everything important." Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka, but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Sri Lankan Christabel endures her dull job and envisions a brighter future that "rose, glittered, and sank back," while she neglects the love close at hand.

The stand-alone yet connected worlds of The Life to Come offer meditations on intimacy, loneliness, and our flawed perception of reality. Enormously moving, gorgeously observant of physical detail, and often very funny, this new novel by Michelle de Kretser reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform and distort the present. It is teeming with life and earned wisdom — exhilaratingly contemporary, with the feel of a classic. (From Catapult)

Michelle de Kretser is an Australian writer. She is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Prize, Australia's most important literary award. Her other novels include The Hamilton Case, The Lost Dog, Questions of Travel and Springtime.

From the book

The house by the river belonged to an old man whose relationship to George Meshaw was complicated but easily covered by "cousin." He had lived there alone, with a painting that was probably a Bonnard. Now he was in a nursing home, following a stroke, and George's mother had taken charge of the painting. It was her idea that George should live in the house until it was clear whether or not their cousin was coming home. She had flown up to Sydney for the day, and George met her for a late lunch. George's mother wore a dark Melbourne dress and asked the waiter for "really cold water," between remarking on the humidity and the jacarandas — you would never guess that she had lived in Sydney for the first thirty-one years of her life. She bent her head over her handbag, and George found himself looking at a scene from childhood. His mother was on the phone, with the orange wall in the living room behind her. As he watched her, she bent forward from the waist, still holding the receiver. Her hair stood out around her head: George saw a dark-centered golden flower. He couldn't have been more than six but he understood that his mother was trying to block out the noise around her—he folded like that, too, protecting a book or a toy when "Dinner!" was called — and that this was difficult because the room was full of the loud jazz his father liked to play. 

Over the years, George's mother's hair had been various colours and lengths, and now it was a soft yellow sunburst again, still with that central dark star. She produced a supermarket receipt from her bag and read from the back of it: "Hair Apparent. Do or Dye." 

"The Head Gardener," replied George. "Moody Hair." 

They were in the habit of noting down the names of hairdressing salons for each other. His mother said, "Also, I saw this in an airport shop: 'Stainless steel is immune to rust, discoloration, and corrosion. This makes it ideal for men's jewlery.'"

From The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser ©2018. Published by Catapult. 

Interviews with Michelle de Kretser

The Australian author talks to Eleanor Wachtel about hope and betrayal in her fiction, and about growing up in Sri Lanka in the 1960s. 55:29

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